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Tag: Putin

Bartosz Kosowski illustrates

Wednesday, 21 January, 2015 0 Comments

“I am an illustrator working in Lodz, Poland” is the very simple “About” statement of Bartosz Kosowski. Such modesty. The the Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles has just awarded him its Gold Medal for his “Lolita” poster, which was created for September’s Spoke Art Stanley Kubrick exhibition in San Francisco.

Talking of last September, on the 24th of that month, Bartosz Kosowski posted the following entry in his blog: “Yesterday I learned that my portrait of Putin was used without my knowledge and permission by a Russian nationalist website Sputnik & Pogrom. First, it is a blatant copyright infringement and there is no excuse for that. Second, I would never allow any nationalist media to use my illustration!” When he positioned their website graphic beside his mock-up of a TIME cover, Kosowski added, “Actually they did award him this title a few years back (sic!).”

Person of the Year

Note: The TIME Magazine Person of the Year 2007 was Vladimir Putin: “His final year as Russia’s President has been his most successful yet. At home, he secured his political future. Abroad, he expanded his outsize — if not always benign — influence on global affairs.” Bartosz Kosowski’s mock-up captures perfectly the man behind the mask, at home and abroad.


Russia has become dangerous again

Sunday, 20 July, 2014 0 Comments

So says David Frum: “It’s not as dangerous as it was, but it’s more than dangerous enough. Nearly 300 bereaved families in the Netherlands, Britain, Canada, and elsewhere have suffered what hundreds of Ukrainians have suffered since Russian sharpshooters opened fire on peacefully protesting crowds in Kyiv last winter.”

The danger is not abstract, either: “And we are all more vulnerable to that danger because we have let atrophy the institutions necessary to meet and contain that danger. It’s time — past time — to build those institutions back. That’s been the meaning of the Ukraine crisis from the start. The terrible heartbreak of MH17 might have been averted if we had absorbed that meaning early. But better to absorb it now than to leave it any longer.”

Time to act.


The ugly side of the Atlético Madrid-Chelsea game

Thursday, 1 May, 2014 0 Comments

It was a pleasure to watch Atlético Madrid defeat Chelsea FC 3-1 at Stamford Bridge last night. For those who don’t follow football, Chelsea is owned by Roman Abramovich, the poster child of corrupt Russian oligarchs. Last month, Alexei Navalny, a leading Putin critic, wrote in the New York Times that Europe should target sanctions at the Russian president’s “inner circle”, including Abramovich, who he described as “the Kremlin mafia who pillage the nation’s wealth.”

Atlético Madrid Does that mean, then, that Rainy Day is adding its considerable weight to the Atlético Champions League campaign? Not so fast. It happens that the coming Saturday is World Press Freedom Day and that’s why the slogan emblazoned across the Atlético shirts, “Azerbaijan Land of Fire”, is so disturbing. Here’s the background: “On the eve of World Press Freedom Day 2014, the press freedom situation in Azerbaijan is worse than perhaps ever before. Journalists and bloggers who dare to criticize the authorities or cover risky topics such as human rights abuses and corruption face a range of pressures, including harassment, intimidation, threats, blackmail, violent attack, and imprisonment.” That’s Rebecca Vincent writing for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

Football can be a beautiful game, but it’s often an ugly business.


Germany’s chief Putin “understander”

Wednesday, 2 April, 2014 0 Comments

Moscow, 11 December 2013: “Meeting with Helmut Schmidt” is the title of Vladimir Putin’s press release and it’s filled with oleaginous praise: “It is a great pleasure and honour for me to meet with you in Moscow, for you are not only the patriarch of European politics but of global politics as well.”

Last week, the former German chancellor used the pages of Die Zeit, a weekly newspaper printed in Hamburg and of which he is a co-publisher, to pay back the compliments he had received in the Kremlin. “Helmut Schmidt hat Verständnis für Putins Krim-Politik” is how the abbreviated piece was titled in the online edition; “Putins Vorgehen ist verständlich” was the title in the print edition. Both were repulsive in their attempts to legitimize Russia’s aggression, and both were nauseating in their efforts to display “understanding” for Moscow’s thuggery. At one point in the print version, the vain, doddery, chain-smoking oracle says: “Until the beginning of the 1990s, the West had never doubted that Crimea and Ukraine — both — were part of Russia.” In fact, until the beginning of the 1990s, they were part of an entity called the Soviet Union.

Schmidt-Carter Helmut Schmidt was German Chancellor from 1974 to 1982, and Jimmy Carter was the President of the United States from 1977 to 1981 so their paths often crossed. Carter’s White House Diary portrays the Hamburg-born politician as an unpredictable whinger, constantly lecturing the Americans on global economics, and then disappearing when Washington needed his help. According to Carter’s notes, Schmidt “acted like a paranoid child” who believed that if life were fair, he would have been president of the United States instead of the man from Plains, Georgia. And in an observation that’s relevant to today’s debate, Carter noted on 5 January 1979: “I was impressed and concerned by the attitude of Helmut toward appeasing the Soviets.”

In 1980, Jimmy Carter lost the presidential election to Ronald Reagan. The upside for the Democrat was that he would no longer have to deal with the German leader. In his diary, he noted that he was “glad to deliver Schmidt… to Reagan.”


He gained Crimea but the Kremlin is now a pariah

Thursday, 27 March, 2014 0 Comments

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: “With a national fertility rate of 1.4, chronic alcoholism, and a population expected to shrink by 30m to barely more than 110m by 2050 — according to UN demographers, not Mr Putin’s officials — the nation must inexorably recede towards its European bastion of Old Muscovy. The question is how fast, and how peacefully.”

The international business editor of the Daily Telegraph is remorseless in his disdain for the new lord of Crimea. In a piece titled “Putin’s Russia caught in US and Chinese double-pincer,” he combines geography and demography with strategy and finance in assessing the hubris and thuggery that have blinded the Kremlin in its decision making. His verdict on Putin is merciless:

“At the end of the day he has condemned Russia to the middle income trap. The windfall from the great oil boom has been wasted. Russia’s engineering skills have atrophied. Industry has been hollowed out by the Dutch Disease: the curse of over-valued currency, and reliance on commodities.”

If you want to learn more about the true nature of this pariah state, read about The Magnitsky List and William Browder’s heroic battle with Russian evil.


A tremor of intent in Crimea

Monday, 24 March, 2014 1 Comment

The writer Anthony Burgess noticed his hand shaking one hungover morning in 1965. “That”, his wife said to him, “is a tremor of intent”. Thereupon, Burgess conceived an eschatological spy novel titled Tremor of Intent, which would offer an alternative to the humourless fiction of John le Carré and the jingoistic fantasy of Ian Fleming. By terming it an eschatological thriller, Burgess was expressing his view of the Cold War as the “ultimate conflict” for which Good and Evil were, he felt, inadequate terms.

Tremor of Intent Synopsis: The ageing, amoral MI6 Agent Denis Hillier, posing as a typewriter technician, journeys to Crimea aboard the cruise ship Polyolbion on a mission to infiltrate a convention of Soviet scientists and return to Britain his school friend Roper, who has defected to the Evil Empire. En route, he encounters the sexually curious sixteen-year-old Clara Walters, the obsequious steward Wriste and the sexually experienced Miss Devi, secretary to the sinister epicure Theodorescu. All of this allows the genius creator of A Clockwork Orange to describe hilariously graphic scenes involving food, drink, sex, politics, philosophy, history, religion, treason and murder. When Hillier is forced to spend three days in the seedy Babi Humayun (Sublime Portal) hotel overlooking the Bosphorus, Burgess hits his musical stride. Snippet:

“Istanbul disturbed him with its seven hills, as though Rome had tried to build herself on another planet. The names of architects and sultans rang in his mind in dull Byzantine gold — Anthemius, Isidorus, Achmet, Bajazet, Solyman the Magnificent. The emperors shrilled from a far past like desolate birds — Theodosius, Justinian, Constantine himself. His head raged with mosques. The city, in cruel damp heat, smelt of wool and hides and skins. Old filth and rusty iron, proud exports, clattered and thumped aboard under Galata’s lighthouse. Ships, gulls, sea-light. Bazaars, beggars, skinny children, charcoal fires, skewered innards smoking, the heavy tobacco reek, fat men in flannel double-breasteds, fed on fat.”

In this age of Putin and Snowden, it is our misfortune that there’s no Anthony Burgess around to novelize the comic aspects of their Cold War II symbiosis.


The power of Twitter

Friday, 21 March, 2014 0 Comments

Background: France has a $1.7 billion deal to build a compact aircraft carrier for the Kremlin.

Foreground: Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, admits that while Paris cannot imagine delivering arms to Russia, there is the harsh reality of employment. With his tweet, he reassures Putin that he can humiliate Western Europe as much as he likes.

Background: Hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to “wipe out Twitter” following a stream of tweets alleging corruption in his inner circle, Turkey blocked access to the social news site.

Foreground: Claire Berlinski is an American novelist, travel writer and freelance journalist. She read Modern History at Balliol College, Oxford, and she lives in Istanbul amid a menagerie of adopted stray animals.


Valeri Volodin sounds like Vladimir Putin

Tuesday, 18 March, 2014 0 Comments

“The Russian Federation invaded its sovereign neighbour on the first moonless night of spring. By dawn their tanks ground westward along the highways and backroads as if the countryside belonged to them, as if the quarter-century thaw from the Cold War had been a dream.” So begins the second chapter of Command Authority, the final novel by the late Tom Clancy, which was published in December last year. Those Russian tanks are rolling into the Baltic states. “This was not supposed to happen here. This was Estonia, after all, and Estonia was a NATO member state. The politicians in Tallin had promised their people that Russia would never attack them now that they had joined the alliance.”

The leader of this outrageous invasion is Valeri Volodin, a KGB veteran bent on reviving the former Soviet Empire, but as this is a work of fiction characters are a product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Anyway, after Estonia, Putin, sorry, Volodin turns his evil eye on the troubled Ukraine. “Any hopes the police might have had that the situation would defuse itself went away when tents started to be erected on both sides, and nationalists and Russian Ukrainians began clashes that turned more and more violent.”

Cut to an up-market Moscow restaurant where Stanislav Biryukov, director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, is having supper with a British businessman. “Russia will invade Ukraine, probably within the next few weeks,” says Biryukov, sipping his chacha, a Georgian brandy. “They will annex Crimea. From there, if they meet no resistance from the West, they will take more of the country, all the way to the Dnieper River. Once this is achieved, I believe Volodin will set his eyes on making beneficial alliances from a position of power, both in the other border countries and in the former nations of the Warsaw Pact. He believes he can return the entire region to the central control of the Kremlin. Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania. They will be the next dominos to fall.”

But this is just fiction, right? And our dear leaders don’t read fiction.


Where’s the omelette?

Thursday, 13 March, 2014 0 Comments

In the glory days of the Soviet Union, for which Putin pines so much, it was not uncommon to hear famous apologists for murderous totalitarianism — Sartre, Pete Seger, Picasso, Eric Hobsbawm, Neruda — say that one cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.

“Where’s the omelette?” George Orwell asked when confronting an egg-breaking advocate of Stalinism in the 1940s.

When speaking of Vietnam, Cuba and Venezuela today, one should ask the same culinary-ethical question.

unbroken eggs


Kissinger: “The test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction”

Thursday, 6 March, 2014 0 Comments

“Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.” So begins a Washington Post meditation by Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977.

Titled “How the Ukraine crisis ends,” the article spares no one: “The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis. Foreign policy is the art of establishing priorities,” says Kissinger.

He’s got this advice for President Obama: “For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington.” And when it comes to President Putin, he calls him “a serious strategist”, but warns that “whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War.”

Kissinger’s preferred outcome is “not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction.” Sadly, one feels that this will not satisfy any of the key players in this drama.


Putin’s Rasputin

Tuesday, 4 March, 2014 0 Comments

At the end of January last year, Charles Clover, then Moscow bureau chief of the Financial Times, asked “How much influence does Father Tikhon Shevkunov have over the Russian president?” The question was posed in a lengthy portrait titled “Putin and the monk“. Snippet:

Father Tikhon Shevkunov “Father Tikhon wields influence in the church far above his modest rank of Archimandrite, or abbot, due primarily to his contacts in the Kremlin. The story that travels with him, which he will neither confirm nor deny, is that he is the confessor to Vladimir Putin. The only details he gives is that Putin, sometime before he became president at the end of 1999 (most likely while he was head of Russia’s FSB security service from 1998 to 1999) appeared at the doors of the monastery one day. Since then, the two men have maintained a very public association, with Tikhon accompanying Putin on foreign and domestic trips, dealing with ecclesiastical problems. But according to persistent rumour, Tikhon ushered the former KGB colonel into the Orthodox faith and became his dukhovnik, or godfather.”

Father Tikhon’s other claim to fame, as Charles Clover points out, is a film entitled Gibel Imperii (The Fall of the Empire), which he produced, and in which he argued that the Byzantine Empire fell, not as the result of assaults by the Ottoman Turks, but because its rulers and elites unwisely copied Western social, economic and political models. Worse, the West, especially Venice, supported separatist movements and central government in Byzantium was weakened. Worse again, young scholars went to the West to study and came back with outlandish notions such as individualism, free enterprise and common markets. Thus, was corrupted the soul of the East to the point where its merchants were ruined and the Empire fell.

Gibel Imperii was ridiculed by historians as a crude attempt to fabricate history and create false parallels with Putin’s imperial Russia. The faithful didn’t care, however. Father Tikhon is now the ex-colonel’s dukhovnik and there can be no doubt about what he’s been whispering in his master’s ear.